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India sets target of 70-75 medals at Asian Games

September 13, 2014

NEW DELHI (AP) — Indian officials aren’t letting a string of administrative controversies or the withdrawal of some leading athletes dampen their expectations at the Asian Games.

“We’ve selected only those who have a chance to win medals,” Jiji Thomson, the director-general of the Sports Authority of India (SAI), said. “It will be realistic to expect 70-75 medals.”

The Indian team collected 65 medals at Guangzhou four years ago.

While recent controversies may not have a bearing on the results at Incheon when the games start next week, the late announcement of the final contingent did cause some anxiety. So did the unavailability of some leading athletes including wrestler Sushil Kumar, boxer Vijender Singh and tennis player Somdev Devvarman.

Thomson’s department, which reports to the sports ministry, caused a stir recently when it advised a drastic pruning of the Asian Games contingent initially proposed by the Indian Olympic Association.

The IOA, which returned to the international fold in February after a 14-month ban for electing tainted officials, recommended 662 athletes and 280 officials in a contingent of 942, but the list was cut down to 516 athletes and 163 support staff for a total of 679.

Though the decision was praised in some quarters — athletes have sometimes complained of being accompanied by unwanted officials — the delay in announcing the final squad was widely criticized and some sports federations also resented the cutbacks.

“This kind of ad-hoc decision-making is not in the interest of sports,” Hockey India secretary-general Narendra Batra said. “These decisions show that the people taking them don’t have an understanding of what is required for competing in the international arena.”

Compounding the problem of team selection was the world boxing body, AIBA, deregistering the Indian federation. Elections on Sept. 11 for a new entity — Boxing India — were likely to be ratified and the boxers could be allowed to represent India rather than compete as independent athletes.

Vijender, a bronze medalist at the Beijing Olympics, withdrew due to an injury but five-time women’s world champion Mary Kom made a comeback after missing out on selection in the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.

Wrestler Kumar, India’s only two-time individual Olympic medalist, withdrew from the Asian Games to concentrate on the Rio Olympics in 2016. But London Olympics bronze winner Yogeshwar Dutt is confident India will still do well.

The withdrawals will hit hardest in tennis. Devvarman, who won the singles and doubles golds at Guangzhou, was among a group of players who decided to forego the Asian Games and concentrate on the pro tennis circuit.

Doubles specialist Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna also withdrew, meaning India is unlikely to get anywhere near its count of five medals in the sport in 2010.

Rifle shooter Abhinav Bindra, India’s only individual Olympic gold medalist, will have another shot at an elusive gold at the Asian Games as Indian marksmen hope to win a clutch of medals despite the presence of renowned Chinese and South Korean shooters.

In athletics, India’s focus will be on discus, with Vikas Gowda in form after winning this year’s Commonwealth gold, while Krishna Poonia and Seema Poonia both made the women’s final at Glasgow.

The traditional rivalry with Pakistan in field hockey always evokes interest and captain Sardar Singh wants nothing less than gold.

“We’re aiming for the gold as we feel this is a very good chance for us,” Sardar said. “We recently beat South Korea (3-0 at World Cup match for ninth place) and Pakistan could be rusty as it did not play in some top tournaments.”

Pakistan, which has won the Asian Games gold eight times, did not qualify for this year’s World Cup in the Netherlands while it could not send a team to the Commonwealth Games due to a split in its national Olympic body.

The weight of expectations in badminton will be shared by Olympic bronze medalist Saina Nehwal along with the younger P.V. Sindhu, who has won bronze medals at two successive world championships and regarded as apable of breaking the Chinese stranglehold in the women’s competition.

India is also be expected to win medals in archery with former World No. 1 Deepika Kumari leading a squad that can spring a surprise in individual as well as team events.

The indigenous sport of kabaddi, which now has two professional leagues being organized out of India, should be a gold for the taking considering India has won it every time since it was introduced in 1990.

But India is again not participating in cricket and will also miss out on some medals after the scrapping of cue sports, chess and roller sports, which accounted for eight medals at Guangzhou.

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